When Is the PSAT? 2020 Dates and Deadlines

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The PSAT is an optional standardized test administered to students in Grades 8–11. The PSAT 8/9 is offered for students in 8th and 9th grade only. The PSAT 10 is available for 10th graders, and the PSAT/NMSQT is for 11th grade students. (NMSQT stands for National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.)

 

Many middle and high schoolers take these exams to get practice with standardized testing. Additionally, the PSAT/NMSQT allows students to qualify for national scholarships and recognition.

 

What is the PSAT?

 

The PSAT was developed in the 1950s to help identify candidates for National Merit Scholarships. Students who score well on this exam receive recognition and even merit scholarships, making it easier to finance their undergraduate degree.

 

The test assesses two broad topics: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing as well as Mathematics. The first topic of the test is further split into two sections, a Reading Test and a Writing and Language Test. Sitting for the PSAT takes two hours and forty-five minutes in total, including two 5-minute breaks.

 

Section Time in Minutes Questions
Reading 60 47
Writing and Language 35 44
Math 70 48
Total 165  139

 

PSAT total scores fall in the following range: 320–1520. To get a total score, students can add their Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score and their Math score together, each of which falls between 160–760. Each section on the PSAT also receives a raw score of 8-38.

 

The top 3% of scorers in 11th grade qualify for national recognition. To determine who qualifies, the National Merit Selection Committee looks at students’ raw scores (8-38 on each section). They double each section’s raw score and add them together for a new number, called the Selection Index.

 

For example, a student may receive a 32 in Reading, a 35 in Writing, and a 29 in Mathematics for a Selection Index of 192. For more information on how to qualify for National Merit, read What PSAT Score Do You Need to Qualify For National Merit?

 

The key difference between the PSAT 8/9, PSAT 10, and PSAT/NMSQT is the year in which students are taking the assessment. While the PSAT 8/9 and PSAT 10 offer great opportunities to practice taking a standardized test, they do not allow students to qualify for National Merit recognition.

 

When Can I Take the PSAT 8/9?

 

Individual institutions, such as schools, have the option to offer the PSAT 8/9 any time between January 13th and the end of April. In order to offer this assessment at all, institutions must place an order for exam booklets in December–February. Contact your school directly if you are interested in taking this exam to find a PSAT 8/9 administered near you.

 

Here are the dates you should keep in mind:

 

Examination Week of Administration Ordering Deadline for International Schools Ordering Deadline for Schools in the U.S.
PSAT 8/9 Jan 13 Dec 2 Dec 9
PSAT 8/9 Jan 20 Dec 2 Dec 9
PSAT 8/9 Feb 24 Jan 10 Jan 31
PSAT 8/9 Mar 2 Jan 10 Jan 31
PSAT 8/9 Mar 9 Jan 10 Jan 31
PSAT 8/9 Mar 16 Jan 10 Jan 31
PSAT 8/9 Mar 23 Jan 10 Jan 31
PSAT 8/9 Apr 14 Feb 21 Feb 28
PSAT 8/9 Apr 20 Feb 21 Feb 28
PSAT 8/9 Apr 27 Feb 21 Feb 28

 

Not all schools administer the exam on every day that it is available. Touch base with your own school or a school near you to register for the PSAT 8/9 on campus.

 

The institution administering your test may cover all, some, or none of your registration fee. Students should follow up directly with the institution where they plan to take the test to see what registration will cost.

 

When Can I Take the PSAT 10?

 

Similarly, here are the 2020 testing windows for the PSAT 10:

 

Examination Week of Administration Ordering Deadline for International Schools Ordering Deadline for Schools in the U.S.
PSAT 10 Feb 24 Jan 10 Jan 31
PSAT 10 Mar 2 Jan 10 Jan 31
PSAT 10 Mar 9 Jan 10 Jan 31
PSAT 10 Mar 16 Jan 10 Jan 31
PSAT 10 Mar 23 Jan 10 Jan 31
PSAT 10 Mar 27 Jan 10 Jan 31
PSAT 10 Apr 14 Feb 21 Feb 28
PSAT 10 Apr 20 Feb 21 Feb 28
PSAT 10 Apr 27 Feb 21 Feb 28

 

Keep in mind that not all schools administer the exam on every day that it is available. Register for the PSAT 10 at a school near you.

 

Your administering institution may cover all, some, or none of your fee. Students should follow up directly to see what registration will cost.

 

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When Can I Take the PSAT/NMSQT?

 

For 2020, the estimated test dates for the PSAT/NMSQT, intended for 11th graders only, are:

 

Examination Day of Administration Ordering Deadline for International Schools Ordering Deadline for Schools in the U.S.
PSAT/NMSQT Standard Oct 14 mid-Sep mid-Sep
PSAT/NMSQT Saturday Oct 17 mid-Sep mid-Sep
PSAT/NMSQT Alternate Oct 28 mid-Sep mid-Sep

 

Please note that these exact dates are subject to change. To ensure that you have reserved your spot to take the PSAT/NMSQT, contact the school where you intend to take the exam by the end of August 2020.

 

The test book costs $17, but individual schools may charge more to defray the expense of administering the exam. If you are a student from a low-income family, your school can request a fee waiver on your behalf. Schools do so on the test ordering site. Fee waivers are only available for the PSAT/NMSQT, not the PSAT 8/9 or PSAT 10.

 

Why Is The PSAT Important?

 

The PSAT 8/9 and PSAT 10 prepare students for future standardized testing. Exams can produce anxiety, so having this exposure familiarizes students with what it feels like to take a major test. It also gives test-takers a sense of what material they need to prepare to perform their best on the PSAT/NMSQT and SAT.

 

Scoring well on the PSAT/NMSQT as an 11th grader makes you eligible for the National Merit Scholarship Program. The only way to qualify for this honor is to take the PSAT in your Junior year.

 

Additionally, African-American, Hispanic, and Indigenous 11th grade students who take the PSAT/NMSQT qualify for National Recognition Programs. Though specifying your ethnicity on the test is optional, students of these backgrounds will be considered for this honor if they offer their biographic information.

 

How Is the PSAT Used in College Admissions?

 

National Merit Scholars, as well as finalists and semifinalists, are automatically considered for merit aid scholarships at a number of colleges. Qualifying for these honors could earn you tens of thousands of dollars in merit aid—all from taking one test.

 

Even schools that do not offer merit aid based on your status as a National Merit finalist or semifinalist still take this accomplishment into consideration when making admission decisions. Similarly, earning a National Recognition Award reflects favorably on you as a candidate.

 

That said, if you don’t get a PSAT score that earns you one of these honors, there’s no need to fret. Your actual PSAT score won’t be used at all in admissions, as you don’t need to report it. If you do achieve National Merit standing, you should of course list it on your application. If you don’t, however, it won’t hurt your application. 

 

How to Prepare for the PSAT

 

The best way to prepare is to take your high school coursework seriously. The math, critical reading, and writing skills assessed on the exam are the same core skills reinforced in high school classrooms throughout the country.

 

To familiarize yourself with the test format, consider signing up to sit for either the PSAT 8/9 or the PSAT 10 early on. Taking these exams will give you a good gauge of how you can expect to perform on the PSAT/NMSQT. You can also take some of the free practice tests that the College Board offers. You should get a good handle on the question types and test formats beforehand, especially if you’re aiming for National Merit status.

 

If you take these exams and still want to improve your PSAT score, consider using SAT preparation materials or signing up for an SAT course. While the test format varies slightly, the core concepts assessed are the same. The bonus is that you’ll be preparing for the SAT too, often a mandatory part of the college admissions process. A popular, free SAT practice website is Khan Academy.

 

At the end of the day, the PSAT is not the end all, be all of your college application. Performing well as an 11th grader makes you eligible for several prestigious honors. That said, lots of students who do not gain national recognition based on this exam go on to succeed in their college admissions.

 

For more information on the PSAT and National Merit, check out these posts:

 

 

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Veronica Wickline
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Veronica is an alumna of Harvard College, where she earned her A.B. in History and Classics. After graduating, she joined CollegeVine serving as the Curriculum Development Manager. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA and is writing her debut novel.